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Rio 2016: Apart from Shiva Thapa, is Indian contingent in boxing lacking the punch?

After historic achievements by Vijender and Mary Kom in 2008 and 2012 Games, respectively, Indian boxing has gone on downward spiral since. For Rio, Thapa remains India’s biggest hope in lowly three-member contingent

Forget the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when Vijender Singh’s bronze medal created so much hype back home that youngsters started taking up boxing seriously. Even forget the 2012 London Games, where MC Mary Kom led a pack of eight fighters with serious intentions of creating history and came back with a bronze.

In the run up to the 2016 Rio carnival, India have just one face to show in boxing, that of young Shiva Thapa (56kg) who was only a teenager during the London Games. The last four years have been nothing short of a disaster for Indian pugilists, with a majority of the time consumed by the national federation fighting for its own survival rather than bothering about the players.
Ideally, Vijender’s bronze medal eight years back should have taken Indian boxing to greater heights. To a certain extent, the display in London proved the country was heading in the right direction, with three of the men’s pugilists making it to the quarterfinals and Mary Kom winning the first-ever Olympic boxing medal in the women’s event.

Since then, though, it’s been all downward. The disqualification of the national boxing federation by the International Boxing Association (AIBA) resulted in the eruption of an ugly internal war, which resulted in Indian boxers missing most international competitions.

Indian boxers were left to train on their own. With no country agreeing to host Indian pugilists to train at their centres, all those boxers who shone at London were confined to Patiala’s National Institute of Sports. From being Asia’s top boxing country in the 2010 Asian Games and Commonwealth Games, India somehow managed to get two more quota places, that of Manoj Kumar (64kg) and Vikas Krishan (75kg), for Rio. That, too, came at the very last minute.

The primary reason for this decline, according to boxing experts in the country, is infighting within the federation. The egoistic attitude of Indian boxing officials also meant a decline in foreign exposure trips of the boxers, which played a big part in the sport’s growth in the country post Beijing.

The decline has been alarming. Indian boxers won just two bronze medals in the men’s section at the 2014 Incheon Asia Games in comparison to the seven (two gold, three silver and two bronze) in the 2010 edition.

With most of the boxing officials busy settling their own individual scores, Indian boxing federation has had no time to hold senior nationals in the last two years. This has applied brakes on the aspirations of any new entrant, something that is quite visible at the circuit.

Coach positive
With no woman boxer being able to grab a Rio ticket and Vijender deciding to ply his trade in the professional circuit, expecting a medal from this three-member contingent in Rio would be a bit far-fetched. The only realistic expectation from Thapa, Kumar and Krishan would be to have a reasonably successful outing in Brazil.

The positive for all these three pugilists is that their 2012 London experience should make them less nervous this time around. But their opponents will be tough. Add to that, this would be the first time that professional boxers will be allowed to compete at the Games. And, all male boxers will compete without head guards for the first time since 1980.

Chief national coach GS Sandhu remains positive, though, who believes that fewer quota places should not bother Indian boxing contingent. “The training has been going as per schedule for the last couple of months,” he said.

The coach’s optimism is understandable, but the pressure of winning a medal at a time when the entire boxing community is looking at these three bravehearts will be a steep challenge.

“Discuss individuals rather than numbers. All three are seasoned boxers and are capable of winning a medal. And please don’t forget that Vijender won a medal in his second Games,” Sandhu added.

Unhappy memories
Both Kumar and Krishan have no great memories from London. In fact, Krishan’s outing turned into heartbreak four years back when his decision was overturned against Errol Spence of the US during the quarterfinal bout. Having been declared winner first, the competition jury overturned the initial decision in favour of the US pugilist after an hour or so.

Kumar also had a forgettable Olympics when his pre-quarterfinal bout was awarded to Tom Stalker of Great Britain, the local man. The Indian kept claiming that he was the winner, but boxing always has a history of favouring locals.

Going into Rio, Thapa is ranked sixth in the world but the high ranking may not give him any advantage because AIBA is expected to alter it in order to accommodate boxers from the World Series of Boxing and AIBA Pro Boxing.

“We saw that in the world championship too. We’re expecting seeding as per the current world ranking but later on we were informed that AIBA ranking committee changed it by including WSB and APB boxers,” said Sandhu.

Every boxer, except for first-round byes, must win five bouts if he/she has to entertain thoughts of a gold medal, while both losing semifinalists will receive a bronze each. Let’s hope Indian boxing can have something to cheer about after a long time.

* This will be the first time that professional boxers will be allowed to compete at the Games

  • All male boxers will compete without head guards for the first time since 1980

Player Event
Shiva Thapa Bantamweight

Manoj Kumar Light welterweight

Vikas Krishan Yadav Middleweight